Friday, May 6, 2011

old habits die hard

After Amritsar, we went back to Delhi for a day en route to Agra. Having done most/all of our sightseeing the first time we were in Delhi (4 days at the beginning of the trip--really enjoyed it but nothing post-worthy), we decided that we wouldn't try to squeeze more things into our 'in between' day there, but rather use it as a day of rest and recuperation.

To that end, we hung around our hotel for a good while and eventually ventured out to use the internet. While at the internet cafe, we thought, "you know, what better to do on a nothing day than see a movie!" So we looked up movie theaters in Delhi, and it wasn't long before we found what looked like utopia: Saket Select Citywalk Mall.

According to the website, it had not only a movie theater but...a Hard Rock Cafe. TGI Fridays. McDonalds. Subway. CINNABON. Having been deprived of all of the above for the past 8 months, we quickly became more excited about the food at the mall than the mall or movie itself.

The Saket Mall was...more than we expected. It was easily nicer/more amazing/fancier than any mall I've been to in the US (granted, I haven't been to many malls outside of Florida). After finding that the movie we planned on seeing, Rio, didn't start for another 3 hours, we weren't worried. In fact, that might be just enough time--just barely--to visit all the restaurants we had already been imagining.

So, the YAV India Saket Mall Progressive Dinner was born. We had appetizers at Hard Rock...entrees at TGI Fridays...dessert at Haagen Dazs. By the time we were finished, we were too full to even consider the popcorn we had so looked forward to having with our movie. The movie itself was cute, and afterwards we headed back to our hotel. It was almost like we had spent a few hours back in the US.

And therein, my friends, lies the problem. How is it that one can walk from an average Delhi street, through a gate, and into uptopia? (a materialistic, consumerist utopia, that is). Why is it that the majority of the people in Delhi probably wouldn't even be allowed through security at that mall simply because they look too poor? (We looked like dirty travelers, of course, but the sad truth is that almost anywhere in India, white skin is an all-access pass). How can I just walk into a place that is inaccessible for so many? It might just be down the road from those living in abject poverty, but for them, it is a world away. It is a place they will never see.

Let's not even talk about how much money we spent. Appetizers, dinner, dessert, and a movie. Not something the average American would necessarily do frequently in the US, but not out of reach. The prices at Saket Mall were comparable to US prices. And yet, the amount of money that I thoughtlessly spent in a matter of hours would probably feed a family for a month in Kerala. I am a product of my culture, and that type of wastefulness/excessiveness is exactly why the US disproportionately consumes so much of the world's resources; why our lifestyle is not sustainable.

To be fair, part of the reason for our over-zealousness, if you can call it that, was that when you don't have pizza for 8 months, and then you have a chance to eat pizza, you just really want the pizza, no matter the cost. Except it does. It matters.

I live a life of privilege, and I know that. While by no means rich by US standards (not even close!), I'm rich by world standards. I'm "rich enough to be poor for a year," as one fellow-YAV observed at orientation in August. I've always thought that going back to the US in July would be a HUGE culture shock, bigger than coming to India in the first place. While I still think that will be true, to some degree, our YAV India Progressive Dinner taught me that maybe it won't be so hard. Maybe old habits die hard, or not at all. A depressing thought in the midst of a year that's supposed to be about transformation, simple living, and solidarity. But the tension of the rope between 'old me' and 'new me'--the space where I think these thoughts and ask these questions--the place where I experience cognitive dissonance over old, wasteful habits--that is where hope resides.

"I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical; it goes from top to bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person and learns from the other. I have alot to learn..." -Eduardo Galeano

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